Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 21st Judicial Circuit, Kankakee County, Illinois, No. 99-L-24; No. 99-L-56 Honorable Fred S. Carr, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater
Plaintiffs Lisa Wren and Cathy Foiles, volunteer firefighters, filed suit after the fire truck they were riding on was involved in an accident. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants Reddick Community Fire Protection District (the District) and William Mikeska. Plaintiffs' appeals were consolidated by this court. We reverse and remand.
On September 27, 1998, a brush fire was reported in Livingston County, Illinois. The District, along with other area fire departments, responded to the fire. Soon after arriving, one of the District's fire trucks left due to the apparently mistaken belief that the truck needed more water to fight the fire. Defendant Mikeska drove the truck while Wren and Foiles stood on the running boards along the side of the truck. The fire truck was subsequently involved in a collision at an intersection with a car driven by defendant Lucretia Moulton. Wren and Foiles filed suit against the District, Mikeska and Moulton seeking damages for their injuries sustained in the accident.
Soon after the accident, plaintiffs' medical bills began to be paid by the District's workers' compensation insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Liberty eventually paid $33,974.37 to 15 medical providers on behalf of Wren, and $49,344.18 to 22 medical providers on behalf of Foiles. Foiles also received temporary total disability (TTD) payments for 64 5/7 weeks, totaling $9,568.68.
Wren filed her initial complaint against defendants, alleging negligence and wilful and wanton misconduct, in February of 1999; Foiles filed her complaint in March of 1999. Both plaintiffs also filed claims for workers' compensation benefits shortly before the statute of limitations for such claims was about to expire: Wren filed on August 30, 2001; Foiles filed on September 25, 2001.
Defendants filed motions for summary judgment on the basis, inter alia, that plaintiffs' complaints were barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1998)). Following a hearing, the trial court granted defendants' motions, stating:
"THE COURT: Now as to Miss Foiles she acknowledges applying for and has received benefits under the [workers' compensation] act. And since she gets no alternative relief by virtue of willful and wanton on the parties defendant, she has no standing to pursue a common law claim. And the motion for summary judgment entered by the Defendants involving Miss Foiles is allowed.
Now we take a look at Miss Wren. There has been suggested that there is a genuine issue of material fact in the Wren case as to whether or not she's employed. That's not really the issue here. Did Miss Wren apply for and receive Workers' Comp Act benefits? If she applied and it's suggested that she applied only to protect her potential rights, well maybe so, maybe not. But she did accept approximately $34,000 in medical benefits from the employer's insurer. Did she give it back? I don't think so. She accepted benefits, albeit not TTD, but she did get her meds, 34 thousand in change worth. She didn't give it back. Maybe she didn't apply until sometime during or after having received these meds, but I don't think that that's really critical in this particular instance. Because she, too, has filed for, chronology notwithstanding, and accepted medical benefits. And having done so, I suggest that her employee status is not at issue. She took the money." (Emphasis added.)
Immediately thereafter, counsel for Wren asked the court whether the court was making a finding that Wren and Foiles were "employees" under the Workers' Compensation Act. The court responded:
"THE COURT: The Court would rule that by virtue of both of them having accepted benefits under the Workers' Comp Act that I would classify both of them without further ado as employees.
MR. YURGINE [Wren's counsel]: Okay. because of the fact that they ...